Local people campaign to welcome refugees in Worcestershire

Vivienne Jones welcomed Vietnamese refugees to Malvern in the 1970s. Now, the great-grandmother is campaigning to welcome Syrian refugees

THE GREAT GRANDMOTHER

Name: Vivienne Jones

Age: 73

Occupation: Retired

Home: Malvern, Worcestershire

In 2014, Malvern Welcomes began advocating for Malvern, a small picturesque town in the hills of western Worcestershire, to take in Syrian refugees. Their efforts led to the county applying to take part in the UK’s Syrian Vulnerable People Relocation Scheme.

Vivienne Jones was one of the first volunteers to work with the group. In the 1970s, Vivienne volunteered with her local church to welcome Vietnamese refugees, the so-called boatpeople, to Malvern. This time, she said, the public mood has been a lot less welcoming. But the great grandmother did not let visible anger dissuade her and persisted in the faith that “we all belong to the same human family”.

We all belong to the same human family.

For about ten weeks I stood outside Waitrose and held petitions for Malvern Welcomes [a grassroots advocacy group urging local authorities to take in Syrian refugees] to see what support there was to welcome refugees in our town. And what I realised was that there is a lot of fear. Not in all, not a majority. But for many.

Some people just walked by and shouted abuse. They used language I was not quite used to hearing.

It is what they get in the media. But it’s mainly the elderly. I was amazed at how many mums and dads signed and brought their children along to see. A lot of young people were happy to sign.

I don’t remember the same controversy with the Vietnamese [in the late 1970s].  In those days, Malvern was just white. I think there was so much in the media about these poor people in boats and there was this compassion because nobody felt they were going to interfere with our lives. It was such a new thing.

Three Vietnamese families came to Malvern. I was with the churches who helped them and we scrubbed the floors and made the houses ready and cooked the meals.

The people who came were quite highly educated, they had money and they managed to come out. This is different: bringing people from camps, especially the vulnerable, people with disabilities or who have been tortured. But it must be the right thing to do. We must give it a try.

I am a Catholic and this year is the year of mercy. I’ve spoken out at church, and people come to me and say: ‘when are they coming, I’ve collected such and such in my loft’. People are aware and thinking about it.

They asked me to say a few words about refugees. So I said a small prayer, trying to remind my audience that we are all the same. Help us to remember, I said, that we all belong to the same human family. And give us the compassion and imagination to help in any way we can.

It must be the right thing to do. We must give it a try.

I didn’t think it would take this long and I’ll be really disappointed if refugees don’t come [to Malvern]. What I want to make sure doesn’t happen is that it isn’t local bureaucracy saying they need to be in a bigger town. Why can’t we have a say? We can look after them. And in time they can do whatever they want, can’t they?

Those people, they must be so desolate. They must feel the world is against them in every way. For them to come here and see that there are people in this strange world ... if they meet love and care and green fields and fresh air, it would be good for them, wouldn’t it? It’s what I would like for myself and for my children.

Meet others like Vivienne who are showing refugees in the UK a #GreatBritishWelcome